OVERNIGHT temperatures frequently falling into the teens and daytime highs often staying in the 20s can mean only one thing: It won't be long before rescue squads are called to Lake Erie to reel in ice fishermen who venture out on thin ice, ignoring warning signs and safety precautions.
Last winter, some 175 fishermen who should have known better were stranded on the lake when warm temperatures and a warm wind turned their fishing spot into a floe. Some were able to make their way east and walk ashore near Camp Perry. But 134 had to be rescued through the combined efforts of the U.S. Coast Guard and a score of local police, fire, and rescue departments - at an estimated cost to taxpayers of $265,000.
Ottawa County Sheriff Bob Bratton said at the time that he favors charging fishermen who are stranded through their own recklessness or negligence. That's a reasonable position.
The best solution, of course, is for fishermen to observe basic ice-safety rules.
A simple weather check, for example, could have made last February's rescue unnecessary. But human nature being what it is, there will always be some who believe they know better. The possibility of having to pay a fine, therefore, would serve as a further deterrent to their witlessness.
While most anglers act responsibly and no one wants to stop them from enjoying a day of ice fishing, when even a tiny minority fishermen act foolishly - some of those stranded last year actually bridged a big crack in the ice with plywood just to get farther out on the lake - they should not expect cash-strapped local communities to bail them out.
The coast guard bears most of the expense of Lake Erie rescues, so the actual cost to fishermen would be small, but charging negligent or reckless anglers for rescuing them would at least send the message that disregard for basic safety will no longer be without consequences.
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